Meet Flo everybody.
Flo is your average Jamaican woman who grew up during the time when Jamaica was still under British Colonial governance. She witnessed the momentous occasion of Jamaica’s independence on Monday, August 6, 1962.
Flo is now a retired teacher. She got married at the tender age of 23 years, and she and her husband raised their three children (I know her son) who have now gone on to create their own paths, and make their own histories.
But unlike other average Jamaican women, Flo has a not-so-secret passion: Flo collects coins and banknotes. Any coins and banknotes from any country. Her passion (you should’ve seen the sparkle in her eyes when she lovingly spoke of her collection when we met, sprawled out in its glory on her study’s table!) is especially for old Jamaican coins and banknotes; the older the better. In fact she is now on a mission to find a quattie to complete her collection of pre-Independence Jamaican coins.
How did I meet Flo you ask?
It all started with this post: Jamaica @ 50 Reflections: The Birth & Growth of the National Currency, 1969-2012. I had tweeted about the fact that Jamaica once had a 50 cent bank note and her son commented that, and I quote: “My mother actually has a couple of these.” He further commented that Flo: “…has been collecting currency for as long as I can remember. She has quite a few really old Jamaican money as well as money from other parts of the world.”
Of course my curiousity got the better of me and I asked him to introduce me to his mother. The result: a wonderful opportunity to meet a very interesting woman: a unique preserver of one aspect of Jamaica’s history through her vast money collection. And what a collection it is!
When did Flo start collecting coins and why?
It all began with the decimalisation of the currency in 1969. During the excitement of this national change Flo saw an opportunity to save one aspect of Jamaica’s history for the benefit of her future children: to teach them about Jamaica’s former currency, much like what the Bank of Jamaica’s Money Museum does today.
So with Jamaica changing out the old currency system, Flo got to collecting and found these old coins wherever and whenever she could. She ensured that she saved whatever coins she had and got some from others. She shared that one coin was found, just by chance, in the mud on the street.
And some of the coins have a story to tell. One coin, a half penny, has a hole drilled through the middle. What’s the story there? Then there was another coin that looked as if one of its previous owners was attempting to shape it into another coin? Ha! The more things change, the more they remain the same.
Her oldest coin in the collection, the above half penny, which was also called a Willie penny, is dated 1891. You should’ve seen how Flo’s face lit up when she held the coin and inspected it, marveling at the age of the coin and the history behind it. I must admit, goose bumps filled my arms when I held the coin, and my knowledge of the history of that period flashed in my mind. It’s like stepping back in time! Can you imagine how many hands held this coin between 1891 and whenever it came out of circulation? Talk about historical ehoes! Just think about it: maybe one of its previous owners had it in his or her pocket while watching and listening to Alexander Bustamante at North Parade in Kingston on May 4, 1938, prior to the ensuing labour riots.
Flo’s passion for collecting currency grew beyond collecting old Jamaican coins and banknotes. In fact, whenever she traveled overseas she would make sure to put aside a sample of that country’s currency for her collection. She also asked others to bring back samples from their travels for her, a duty it seemed they were most willing to fulfil based on all the countries represented in her collection:
- Cayman Islands
- Costa Rica
- Czech Republic
- Eastern Caribbean
- El Salvador
- Netherland Antilles
- Trinidad and Tobago
- Turks and Caicos
- United States of America
And these were the ones I noted at the time of the interview! WOW!!!
One of the most interesting international banknotes in her collection is from Iraq: a 250 dinars note featuring a portrait of the now deceased notorious dictator, Saddam Hussein.
So is Flo’s collection complete?
Not by a long shot! As I mentioned above, Flo is now searching for a quattie coin. She is also planning to source former banknotes from Jamaica’s colonial days, as her collection does not currently have much of those, except for a five shilling bank note.
Plus there are so many other countries in the world she hasn’t collected from as yet. I foresee her collection growing much larger in the near future!
Do you know someone who collects items from Jamaica’s past? Items that they have personal connections to, like Flo? Drop me a line please, and tell me more about them and how I can get in touch. I’d love to feature them on Jamaican Echoes.
Until next time…